It had started out like any other morning. Stan woke up, shuffled downstairs in a half-awake stupor, fixed himself a cup of strong coffee and then slumped limply at the kitchen table sipping his drink while waiting for the caffeine to kick in. And just like every single day since the start of the summer, it wasn't long at all before the peace was inevitably broken.
However it didn't take long for him to realize that it wasn't his great-niece and nephew's usual happy morning racket. He cocked his head in the direction of an escalating argument in process.
"...Hey, calm down. Look, we'll stick it in the trash and then-"
"The trash? But what if….what if the garbage man sees it? Then he'll see what I did!"
"Okay, then we'll put it in a bag, then put it in the trash-"
"No, regular trash goes in a garbage can. But super bad stuff like this needs something more!"
"Mabel, relax! It's not the end of the world. All we have to do-"
"Meow meow meow meow! I'm Dipper, everything' sooooo easy and simple to me because-"
"Oh c'mon, don't meow at me. It's really not that big of a deal-"
"It is a big deal! It's a huge deal, and I'm getting rid of it, I'm getting rid of it for good!"
Not surprisingly, the twins' squabbling hooked the attention of their great uncle. Something was definitely up. His bubbly grand-niece was sounding strangely upset. And if that wasn't enough of a tip off, his suspicions were confirmed when she suddenly raced into the kitchen and made a beeline for the stove.
"HiGrunkleStangottausethisforasecond!" The words gushed from between her lips in a frantic, barely-comprehensible jumble.
"Whoa, hold on! What's with you?" He pried, blocking her path with a heavy arm. His niece ran smack into the improvised roadblock with a yelp, causing the strange lump tucked hidden beneath her sweater to come loose and drop to the floor. Before the startled tween could recover, he curiously picked a catastrophic piece of knitwork.
"Grunkle Stan, WAIT!" She yelped with dismay, but it was too late.
At first, Stan had literally zero idea what in the world he was looking at. It was definitely a piece of knitted craftwork, and that was really the only definite thing one could say about it. Otherwise it seemed like it was purposely made to defy all description. The mess of wool couldn't seem decide if it wanted to be a sweater, a hat, or a scarf. Even its color was hard to pin down; the phrase "mashed rainbow" kept coming to mind.
"Whoa..." His eyes widened a bit as he counted the number of sleeve and pant leg hybrids on it. "What the heck is this?"
"Nothing! Nothing at all!" Mabel made a desperate leap to snatch it back.
"Calm down, missy. You're more worked up than usu...wait, you're never like this." Stan realized aloud. "What gives?"
"It's...it's my...my night-knitting." After a furious burst of effort, Mabel finally forced herself to blurt out the unpleasant truth. She then promptly buried her blushing face into her twin brother's shoulder.. Despite the deep reserves of strength she had to draw upon to give the honest answer, her uncle's bewilderment still lingered.
"Uh….say that again?"
"Night knitting." Dipper repeated, then glanced to his sister. It was only when Mabel gave a meek nod that he continued to explain on her behalf. "Remember that takeout we had last night?"
"Yeah…." Stan recalled the curry from the small Indian restaurant that had opened downtown
"It doesn't happen every time, but sometimes if she has something too spicy before bed, she ends up making something in her sleep."
Mabel grinned sheepishly in embarrassed confirmation. Stan just cocked his head at the pair, hardly able to believe what he was hearing. To put it simply, this was not how he expected to start his day.
"Promise not to let anyone know I made this? Please?" she begged. "It's...it's weird. Whatever I ending up making is so ugly and gross, and no one can use it for anything."
Stan stared at the unusually upset preteen, then back to her curious creation. The corners of his lips then began to slowly curl into a curious smile as inspiration struck. "No problem, kiddo. I won't tell anyone.
"You do?" Mabel chirped hopefully. "So...you're gonna let me get rid of it now?"
"If you really want it out of your hair, then just leave it up to me." He assured her. "Trust me, I'm good at getting rid of things."
"Thank you, Grunkle Stan!" She chirped with relief.
"No problem, kiddo," Stan gave her a pat on the head as his cranial cogs whirled into high gear. "No problem at all..."
"...Ladies and gentlemen, step right up! Come and feast your eyes on the Shroud of Glordak, the Freakboy!"
Clad in a freshly pressed suit and wearing his signature eye patch, Stan dramatically waved his eight ball cane as he directed the attention of a gaggle of intrigued tourists. The sightseers edged closer to the bizarre woolen garment hanging up on the wall and ringed closely by a tacky ring of flashing Christmas lights. A chorus of amazed and awed gasps filled the room as the crowd hung on to their guide's every word.
"They say he was born and raised in an abandoned nuclear plant, and then forced to live in the darkest, most desolate swamps! What was it that drove him to stay hidden in the shadows? What was it about him that drove those unlucky few who glimpsed him absolutely mad? Was it knees that bent backwards? One head too many?" Stan spoke with the finest flair he could deliver. "Nobody knows, for sure! But here, and here only at the Mystery Shack we have the hideous rag that was his only piece of clothing! So come one, come all, and try to imagine the monstrous horror that he was...if you dare!"
As the tour group eagerly swarmed close, he was quick to add, "Ten bucks to touch it! It's, uh...it's a sale today! For only ten measly dollars, you can feel for yourself! That's right, one at a time...don't be shy with those wallets, folks, you know you can't resist! No checks, cash only!"
Completely in his element, it was only a matter of moments before the master showman had driven his visitors into a miniature frenzy of excitement. While they swarmed around his newest attraction, he soon found himself lovingly counting a heavy wad of fresh bills in his hands.
"C'mon, keep it coming! You know you just want to-ow!" he grunted as someone gave him a heavy prod from behind. "Gimme a sec, okay? Just have your money ready, and I'll-"
He turned to find himself facing a glowering twelve-year-old. "Jeez, what's with you?"
Dipper scowled angrily and jabbed a finger to the wall. "What's this?"
"It's good business sense, that's what." Stan shot back.
"You said you'd get rid of it." The boy reminded bluntly.
"Yeah. I got it off her hands, and as far as everyone knows a freak-boy made this. It's win-win." Stan waved his great-nephew off. "Look, we can talk about this later. Money's flowin' in like crazy right now, and-"
He turned around and found himself the target of a stare so icy it nearly chilled the blood in his veins. Wendy's glare sent his entire body jolting with surprise. "GAH! D-don't scare me like that! And just what are you doing up here, anyway? I need you back downstairs manning the register, stat!"
The lanky teen didn't bunch one inch. Wendy defiantly crossed her arms and started tapping a heavy boot on the wooden floor. "Dipper told me where the new attraction came from."
"So." Her boss snapped defensively. "What's it to you? It's not like I have Mabel's name up there or anything. She doesn't have to deal with it anymore, and we get a little extra money today. Everyone wins, right?"
Unmoved by his reply, she growled back, "Not cool."
"What's with you two?" Stan demanded as the pair continued to shower him with withering stares. "C'mon, I'm right in the middle of a tour-HEY!"
Without a word of warning, Wendy's gave him a sharp push. Still wielding that steely glare, the teen roughly shepherded him out of the room.
"Hey, watch it! Watch it! Hold on folks, I'll be back in a minut-OW! Easy!" Despite the bombardment of protests he showered down on them, the two forcefully marched him through the Shack, all the way from the cheesy exhibits, through the gift shop and then into the living room doorway. Dipper wordlessly raised a noodle arm and pointed.
"What? What the heck am I supposed to….uh oh."
Sitting against the wall, her arms hugging her knees, Mabel was quite the sorry sight. Her usually toothy smile was nowhere to be seen. In its place was a heavy despairing frown as she gazed down vacantly around her feet. As Wendy kept Stan back, Dipper headed over to his downcast double.
"Hey there," He greeted gently, as if he was approaching a lost kitten. "How are you holding up?"
"Thbbbttt!" A few flicks of spit flew as she blew a sopping wet raspberry. The girl didn't even look up when her twin took a knee beside her.
"Sorry. Can't help it. All those dummies are being dumb because they're looking at the dumb thing I made and thinking that it's dumb." She muttered morosely.
"But no one knows that you made it." As Dipper made this point, he took care to pass a glance to his great-uncle.
"Yeah, yeah. But I know that I made it! I did, and now they're all...they're all laughing at it because they think it came from a big freak...and...and you know what?" Mabel huffed. "Maybe it did."
"Come on, that's not true." He countered with a comforting pat on her shoulder, but she was having nothing of it.
"It's...it's not right! It's just not! When you knit something, it's supposed to be something that you put lots of time and work into so you get something to make you warm, or feel awesome, or...or give as a present!" She whimpered unhappily. "When you make something, it's supposed to be...I dunno...it's suppose to be nice. Not for people to make fun of! Not to make you feel stupid, and weird, and...and sad."
There was a pause before she decided, "Knitted stuff is actually good for one other thing."
Mabel promptly grabbed the neck of her sweater and started pulling it up over her face.
"Oh no, don't." Dipper immediately protested."Don't go to-"
"Sorry, you can't complete your call now." Came the gloomy automatic reply. "You don't have the right area code for Sweatertown. Please try again later."
The humiliated girl went silent, save for a stray whimper that slipped out every now and while she rocked gently back and forth. For now, Dipper felt like there was nothing he could do besides pull up closer and sling an arm around what he guessed were the shoulders of the miserable lump. Back in the doorway, Wendy scowled at her employer one last time before heading over to the twins.
Stan was now left alone with a heartbreaking view and some thinking to do. He glanced down at the hefty wad of cash in his hands, back to the kids, and to his sizable earnings once more, and repeated this process several more times. To say that he was feeling torn would have been an understatement. Thankfully between his great-niece and his earnings, it was hardly a match. He rested his head against the wall with a mighty groan of exasperation.
"You're killin' me here, kiddo. You're absolutely killin' me….."
Mabel's condition improved, but only marginally so. After being coaxed out of Sweatertown, she had taken to moping around the Shack until she finally retreated into the attic bedroom. Now the wilted tween lay curled up on her bed, with Waddles plus two stuffed animals crammed into her arms, and her head resting on Wendy's lap. Together her friend and brother continued to try their best to rouse her flagging spirits.
"...Want to play Pine-ball?" Dipper suggested with a smile.
"How about spin the pig?" Wendy tried. The little lump of woe just whimpered.
The pitiful scene was interrupted by a knock on the doorway. Dipper glanced up, and once he saw that it was only his great-uncle he looked away. Wendy however bore into him with a fresh stare. Stan grimaced and tried not to look her in the face. How in the world she become such a master of the evil eye, he'd never know.
"I...um...got something for you, Mabel." He murmured gruffly. Only after a pause did the girl raise her head and cast a curious gaze on the large box in his hands. Stan had to force a cough to keep the words from getting caught in his throat. Things like this never came easily to him, and this was no exception for so many different reasons. "I got you...your...uh, your cut from today."
The words almost burned as they finally rolled off his tongue with an agonized effort, but to his surprise he successfully managed. Meanwhile, the others all just gazed blankly at him in utter bewilderment.
"...My cut?" Mabel repeated bemusedly as sat up. Her great uncle nodded before setting down the box down by the bed.
"Yeah, well you brought in a lot of folks today, and...uh, since you like to….and you're good at it, and…." This from-the-heart stuff almost pained him as much as voluntarily giving up a whole day's profit. After fumbling for the right words, he finally grunted, "Just look, okay?"
For a moment the others just shot him puzzled stares. But after reading the regret in his eyes, Mabel put down her pig, got to her feet and warily checked inside. A moment later everyone nearly went deaf as a squeal of delight tore through the Shack. In a flash Mabel found herself being instantly flooded with so much joy that it nearly paralyzed her. For the first few moments all she could do was bounce up and down and gaze upon the abundance of different-colored yarn balls. The moment she regained a shred of control over her own body she tipped the box over and flopped onto the bright soft pile with another happy cry.
"I've died and gone to arts and crafts heaven!" she giggled uproariously, arms and legs flailing as she made an impromptu yarn angel.
Stan couldn't help but smile with relief. It looked like she was back to her usual bubbly self. However, his joy proved to be short-lived when he lookup and saw that the others were now flashing him two of the biggest, toothiest smug grins that he had ever seen.
"So is the Shroud of whatever still up?" Dipper asked.
"I...um...managerial decision!" Stan hastily tossed together a flimsy excuse. As he took out the half sweater, half scarf, half hat. "Can't have the same stuff forever, y'know! Drives down business. Anyway, I need you guys to pitch this-"
"Mr. P, I didn't know you were such a softie." Wendy chortled, passing Dipper a wink.
"Hey, it was only bringing in pocket change! Besides, I thought it was time we took the frog-o-lantern and put it back on display anyway...'cuz...y'know, that was a real crowd-pleaser-" The air was suddenly forced from his system when Mabel crunched his waist in an adoring hug.
"Thank you, thank you, thank, thank youuuu!" she bubbled in ecstatic singsong. He gazed into her shining eyes for a moment, and finally resigned himself to his fate. Stan allowed a small grin on his craggy face before leaning over to wrap an arm around his beaming, hyper-appreciative niece.
"Sorry, kiddo." He murmured. "Didn't mean to-"
"It's okay!" The girl chirped back, immediately lifting a mighty loud of his shoulders. "All is going to be one million percent forgiven!"
"...After you wear it." Mabel added with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. "For ten minutes. Minimum."
Once the others overheard her conditions, they swung into eager action. Chuckling like maniacs, Wendy gathered up the woolen anomaly and waved it at her boss. Dipper dug around the room, and it wasn't long until he had located a camera. Three anticipating gazes now locked onto him. Stan sighed to the high heavens as he braced himself.
"I'll deserve it…..but I won't like it…."